CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- After four minutes, it seemed like all hope was lost.
In their final ACC game in Chapel Hill, Maryland was down 19-3 heading into the under-16 timeout.
The Terps (13-10, 5-5 ACC) looked lost on both ends of the floor. Offensively, the game started out with a barrage of turnovers and forced shots, often leading to transition opportunities for the Tar Heels (15-7, 5-4 ACC).
On defense, the team had no answer for UNC's fast-paced attack, while forward James Michael McAdoo scored nine points in just over three minutes for Carolina.
Despite a valiant comeback effort from Mark Turgeon's squad as the game progressed, UNC's hot start — cushioned by a dominant second half performance from the Tar Heels' Marcus Paige — proved too much to overcome, as Maryland fell, 75-63, on Tuesday night.
Dez Wells led the Terps' scoring attack with 18 points — 13 of which came in the second half — while Evan Smotrycz added 14 of his own. Charles Mitchell was a huge factor with his energy and contributions on the glass, finishing with 13 rebounds and three blocks, to go along with five points.
"We couldn't afford a bad start and we had one," Turgeon said of the 16-point hole that his team found itself in early on. "They made what seemed like every shot at the beginning. They got good looks."
Turgeon went on to applaud the effort and tenacity of his players as the first half progressed. Maryland responded to the 19-3 deficit with a 16-3 run of their own.
"After [the 19-3 run], I thought we really tried hard, I thought we competed. I thought we did a lot of things well," he said.
After narrowing the gap to just three points with 6:25 to play in the first half, the Terps again suffered from the same mistakes that haunted them to start the game — turnovers and mental lapses that led to fouls.
UNC carried a 39-27 lead into halftime after finishing the frame on a 13-4 run.
"We just didn't finish the half," Turgeon said. "To win, you can't start a game that way and you can't finish a half that way to be successful."
Despite the double-digit deficit, Mitchell said that morale was high in the Maryland locker room at halftime, and that was key to the Terps' resilience in the second half. With just over six minutes remaining, Maryland had the UNC lead cut to six points.
"We had to fight our way back into the game. I think we tried to stay poised and fight our way back into the game," Mitchell said. "I feel like we came back and were focused. We stayed together and we tried hard."
Mitchell — who had nine rebounds (four offensive) in the first half — acknowledged that his work on the glass was a key throughout the game.
"[Offensive rebounding] is something I always do every game. Some days it's a spark, some days it's just me rebounding. Today it was a spark because our offense wasn't flowing," he said.
As far as the history and context surrounding the Terps' final ACC game in Chapel Hill, Mitchell was indifferent.
"It's a basketball game. I don't think of it like Chapel Hill. It's a win or loss on our record and I wanted to win," Mitchell said. "I feel like we let one slip away. Heads are high because we felt like we gave a great effort out there…It just came down to the fouls, some of the fouls we thought we didn't commit."
Fouls continue to haunt the Terps
Maryland battled foul trouble throughout the contest, finishing with 29 team fouls and Mitchell fouling out in the closing stages. Turgeon was bothered by his team's foul-heavy performance in the loss and mentioned it as a key factor in the final result.
"We had unbelievable foul trouble all night," Turgeon said, subtly hinting at the fact that his squad was battling the odds as the visiting team in an ACC game. "I thought we got better as the game went on, but sometimes it's life on the road, too."
Mitchell echoed the same sentiments about the Terps' foul trouble on Tuesday night.
"We committed some dumb fouls," the sophomore big man said. "You're gonna always get some bad calls. You've just gotta play through and keep playing. You can't get down."
"We have to figure out a way to shoot more free throws and quit fouling so much. It's been a problem of ours," Turgeon added in his postgame press conference.
As for addressing the fouling dilemma, the head coach had no clear vision for a solution, simply offering an "I don't know."
Paige steps up for UNC
Marcus Paige finished as the Tar Heels' leading scorer with 25 points, scoring 18 in the second half. Brice Johnson poured in 19 points for Carolina, and had an emphatic two-handed dunk in the game's closing stages to put the exclamation point on the win..
"I thought [Paige] was sensational in the second half," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of his star sophomore's performance.
Turgeon agreed, simply saying, "Paige was just too good."
"He played his tail off," Williams added of Paige, who came into the game averaging 16.7 points per game on the season and 14.3 in ACC play.
With the loss, Maryland now holds a 1-4 record in away ACC games. The lone win came against Virginia Tech last week, arguably the conference's worst team this year with a 1-8 mark in conference play.
Despite the Terps' struggles on the road thus far in league play, Turgeon saw some silver lining in Tuesday night's performance in Chapel Hill.
"It was the first time on the road against a good opponent in a hostile environment that we really competed to the end," Turgeon said.
On top of the difficulty of getting favorable calls on the road — Maryland was whistled for 29 team fouls to Carolina's 18 — Turgeon acknowledged that it is tough to face such a transition-oriented and explosive team on their home floor.
"They're pretty athletic, Carolina's pretty fast. It's kind of hard to simulate that," he said. "[That was] a pretty talented team we played against tonight. We're getting better. You're never happy with a loss but we've come a long ways in the last two and a half weeks."
Terps Come Up Short Against Carolina
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